Quarkside

21/05/2012

HMRC technique for raising money

Filed under: Process — lenand @ 12:56 pm
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The Government Gateway gives access to business and personal accounts with HMRC.  There does not seem to be a restriction on how many accounts you can access – but that’s another story.  Even if you are logged on, a business user has to enroll for each service, such as VAT and PAYE.  However, you are not warned that each of these services require separate notification. This is particularly galling with PAYE; they insist on sending the tax reference number by snail mail – they don’t seem to trust secure email.  Then when you try to enroll, they finally let you know that you have to apply for a new Activation Code – and this adds another seven days for snail mail.  Why such a convoluted process – I’d love someone to steal my codes and pay my tax bills.

The consequence is a late payment fine for 14 days delay for what should be done in 30 minutes.  An example of bureaucracy increasing Government income.

 

01/05/2012

Party for Education Standards

Filed under: Education,Process,Standards — lenand @ 12:14 pm
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Business Data Architecture

This is the new Business Data Architecture from the Education, Skills and Children’s Services (ESCS) system, published by the Information Standards Board (ISB). It is more than a year since Quarkside reported better relations with the Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) parallel standards. The good news is that there have been changes as a result of better communications. It appears to show a better understanding of the  processes that operate within schools.

It may only seem to be a small change from ‘Stakeholder’ to ‘Party’.  But it make more practical sense.  Most people in school administration do not consider themselves as stakeholders, whereas they all like a party.  It must have been a brave change, owing to the enormous number of places the word had to be replaced in the Standard, which has now grown to 246 pages.

Give them a round of applause for perseverance over the years.

 

 

 

14/02/2012

Right to be forgotten: Is it practical?

Filed under: Governance,Politics,Privacy,Process,Risk — lenand @ 8:08 am
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The reform of the EU’s data protection framework has an explicit requirement that obliges online social networking services (and all other data controllers) to minimise the volume of users’ personal data that they collect and process.  Furthermore, data controllers must delete an individual’s personal data on request – assuming there is no other legitimate reason to retain it.

One wonders if this also applies to back-up and archive files.  The best organisations may be able to trawl through history, selectively remove personal records and produce an audit trail to prove it.  It may start messing up statistical reports – but that a minor problem when most public sector organisations do not have information governance processes capable of tracing individuals – let alone removing all traces of them.

12/02/2012

7DIG: Time needs more than philosophy

Filed under: Assets,Governance,Objectives,Outcomes,People,Process,Risk,Time — lenand @ 10:08 am
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The Time component of the seven dimensional information governance (7DIG) framework was of little practical interest.  The spatio-temporal paradigm may hold the philosophical high ground, but a treatise on Gantt charts would have been out of place.  Serendipity has revealed a practical product, which is free, and is based on a philosophy of teams doing the right thing at the right time.  It brings together the People who have to do the information governance with the Process that sets Objectives and uses Assets to achieve the desired Outcomes.  And it has a Risk register.

It is project based – ideal for setting up an Information Governance process and should be adaptable for continuous monitoring. Look at some of the features:

  1. People from any department or supplier
  2. Assets, such as an information asset register and documentation, as a sharable resources
  3. Objectives, as part of the textual description including a breakdown into areas of interest or phases of work
  4. Process description in the form of tasks, which can be repeatable, taking us through the identification to deletion cycle
  5. Outcomes by the way of documented completion of tasks and compliance with targets
  6. Time charts, calendars, milestones and the possibility to export to your favourite Gantt chart tools
  7. Risk register, very simple to input and understand but good enough in most Information Governance régimes

The openness is especially encouraging.  It is completely Web-based and viewable from your iPod, iPhone or iPad.  Even the name is encouraging – Teamwork.

Quarkside wondered why such a simple product has not popped up in the radar previously.  Maybe it has only been promoted within the systems development community – and not yet reached public sector ICT managers.  Another job for Socitm?

14/11/2011

A Framework for Frameworks

Filed under: Innovation,Outcomes,Politics,Process,Risk,Strategy,Time — lenand @ 4:24 pm
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Whilst reviewing a worthy document on leadership in ICT, it seemed to lack structure.  The contents were fine, but left an uneasy feeling that not everything had been covered.  Was the advice MECE?  This led to a Leadership Model, reminiscent of one used by Quarkside before (7DIG).  The seven primary dimensions were Direction, Stakeholders, Resources, Action, Outcomes, Time and Risk.

The Expanded Leadership Model is probably a reasonable Framework for many ICT organisations.

It triggered an idea of a Framework for Frameworks. A self-help tool that gives a structure for all MECE dimensions.  It starts with seven generic concepts.

  1. Context:  the business environment and constraints
  2. Subjects:  People who are involved in processes
  3. Verbs: Words that denote action by people, Process
  4. Objects:  Things that are resources to be consumed or created
  5. Outcomes: Desired results from the process actions
  6. Time:  When things are to be done
  7. Risk:  What can disrupt the Process – and how to manage risk

The diagram may help some people.  Let us know if it has helped you.

Let the organisation decide the next level down.  They know the trigger points and politics that will enable changed behaviour or transformation of processes.  For many purposes, this simple framework for frameworks should be more effective than McKinsey’s famous 7S framework for changing organisations.

24/10/2011

Policies need Confidence

All organisations need policy. How confident are they that policy (aka strategy) will be followed and that the desired outcomes will be achieved? Because policies are always top-down, confidence in success exudes from the top; but apathy, indifference and scepticism is the normal response from the bottom. Let’s see how Confidence Management could lead to more realistic expectations and implementations.

Here is an example     from a membership organisation of  managers working in the information domain. They have been developed, top-down:

Three core principles 

  • Collaborate, share and re-use assets
  • Redesign services to simplify, standardise and automate
  • Innovate to empower citizens and communities

Six strategic capabilities

  1. Leadership from CIOs
  2.  Governance
  3. Organisational change
  4. Strategic commissioning and supplier management  
  5. Shared services
  6.  Professionalism

Six key issues around information and technology

  1. Information governance
  2. Information management, assurance and transparency
  3. Digital access and inclusion
  4. Local public services infrastructure
  5. Business change
  6. Central government services have been integrated with local public services delivery.

The document had a successful launch.   Stage 1, on time and on budget.   Stage2 is for the individual members to plan implementing these policies (aka strategies) back in their own organisations.    Stage 3 is to convert those plans into changed practices throughout the UK.

The Confidence Management Process  converts the lists above into fifteen questions in relation to how confident each interviewee is about the progress that  will be achieved within  5 years, by 2016.

How confident, on a scale of 0% to 100%, are you that the following targets will  be achieved?

  1. The organisation and partners have  collaborated, shared and re-used information assets  with pooled budgets and staff for all services.
  2. All services have been redesigned to simplify,  standardise and automate business processes.
  3. Citizens and communities have been empowered by innovative methods in every service area.
  4. CIOs have demonstrated leadership and delivered more efficient and fairer public service outcomes, demonstrated by KPIs.
  5. ICT Governance processes have been managed by a Programme Office,   administering a portfolio of business change programmes and projects  with strong change and risk management.
  6. Outcome-focused organisational change methods have been employed successfully in all services.
  7. Strategic commissioning and supplier management has proved to be more effective and reduced costs by at least 25% with better service provision.
  8. Shared services have been operated 25% more efficiently  by     partnership arrangements.
  9. ICT Staff have been assessed under SFIA framework and improved their level of skills to  operate as  a certified professional.
  10. An information governance framework has been implemented and best practice is being followed.
  11. Standard information management, assurance and transparency processes have been instituted that control data throughout the lifecycle – providing a single version of the truth.
  12. Multi-channel digital access has extended to  80% of service transactions, with special provision for digitally excluded citizens.
  13. The infrastructure has employed the Public Sector Network for Cloud services, shared data centres and shared application.
  14. Business change projects have delivered measurable outcomes and benefits across organisational boundaries.
  15.    All central government departments have closely integrated ICT systems     for local public services delivery, eg Education, Health, Justice, DWP  and HMRC.

This would enable a bottom-up, and middle-out, perspective of the policy. It should help to identify the critical success factors (CSFs). In the end it is the foot soldiers who have to implement policy. They are likely to recognise similar initiatives from many years earlier, and carry on with business as usual. Leadership must focus on CSFs or lose the opportunity for another five years. Hard times calls for tough decisions.

03/06/2011

Apply Systems Logic to Policy

Filed under: Governance,Local Government,Policy,Process — lenand @ 8:48 am
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The Institute For Government (IFG) is a well respected Think Tank. A recent paper is a good illustration of the thought that goes into their research publications “SYSTEM STEWARDSHIP: The future of policy making?“. It looks upon the process that includes policy making and implementation as a system. It is a controlled system as engineers might understand it. Ergo, it has feedback and response components to provide stability.
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It shows that local government is on the receiving end of policy, but is the main actor in implementation. Very often, the feedback may require changes of policy. It is a pragmatic reaction which depends on local conditions that may not apply nationally. Trivialising it to a football game, a manager may change direction at half-time as a result of observing the performance – but the detailed decisions must be made by the players on the field.

All too often, central government micro-manages the local implementers; morale suffers and performance plummets. Think about applying these principles to any locally delivered service; the National Health Service, police, schools, care homes, environment, planning …

05/05/2011

Household Hold-up. Universal Complexity

Filed under: Governance,Local Government,People,Policy,Process,Technology — lenand @ 8:53 am
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The first page of the Impact Assessment of Universal Credit programme, published in February, makes it clear that HOUSEHOLD is the basic unit of measure:

“In nearly 1.1 million workless households, a person would currently lose more than 70 per cent of their earnings if they move into work of 10 hours a week. The incentives to increase hours once in work are also very weak. At present around 0.7m households in low paid work would lose more than 80 per cent of any increase in their earnings because of higher tax or withdrawn benefits.”

This is great for statistical analysis, such as the principal source of data “DWP Policy Simulation Model (based on FRS 2008/9), 2014/15”.  Modellers are not concerned about the problems of individual low income people nor the staff making benefits decisions.  Quarkside now understands the difficulty of DWP officials answering straight questions like ‘What is a household?”.  Sympathy is due when they are expected to translate into Plain English paragraphs such as these:

32. In most cases workless households experience no change in their entitlement in static financial terms. This is because they do not benefit from the earnings disregard, and their basic benefit rates are as in the current benefit and Tax Credit system.

33. Claimants who are under 25, who are childless and not disabled, are currently unable to claim WTC when they are in work. Therefore they will benefit from the removal of this exclusion within Universal Credit. Likewise households who are working part-time and who receive Tax Credits and other benefits, will gain from the fact that they will have a lower withdrawal rate than under the current system and because they are likely to have a higher earnings disregard.

34. Working households not currently receiving WTC but receiving other benefits will tend to have higher entitlements under Universal Credit. They benefit from the fact the Universal Credit taper is lower than the combined taper on their current suite of benefits and Tax Credits, but they do not experience an offsetting reduction due to the removal of WTC.

35. If households are working less than 16 hours, and are either disabled or have children, then they benefit from the fact that their earnings disregards are generally higher than under the current system. Because they are working below 16 hours they are not currently entitled to WTC, and so will not be affected by the fact that the generosity of WTC is duplicated in the current system.

36. If households are in receipt of Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Tax Credits then they will have a lower withdrawal rate under Universal Credit and so are more likely to receive higher entitlements.

37. Around 200,000 households who are currently not eligible for Tax Credits because their household income is above the eligibility threshold, also receive Council Tax Benefit in the current system. These households will not be eligible for Universal Credit.

38. The households with lower entitlements will tend to be claimants who are in one or more of the following categories;

    • Those in receipt of a large amount of WTC; 
    • Those who do not receive HB/CTB;
    • Those who have a low disregard;
    • Households with substantial amounts of capital.

The policy is not in question.  The ability of agile analysts and systems developers to translate this into code that is consistent with primary legislation is the issue.  Household is a portmanteau word that is concrete enough for shaping policy, but is melting jelly in the minds of people who have to design forms and distribute money.  Computer programmers need to know whether an “or” in a sentence is of the inclusive or exclusive variety.  Drafters of legislation, fresh out of a politics degree, may not even know there is a difference. There are alternative approaches to controlling the costs of social welfare – but the have not appeared in radar of politicians.

Eventually it will be recognised that the solution is totally dependent on Technology.  If necessary, the Governance legislation and the Process practices will have to change.  UK Central Government, and their suppliers, are incapable of embracing such a concept.  UK Local Government will just have to pick up the pieces of broken households.

12/04/2011

Framework for Change: Technology Enabled

Filed under: Governance,Outcomes,Process,Standards — lenand @ 11:53 am
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The public sector can now start making use of a useful standard has crept out of the OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards).  The title is not in fashion,  “Transformational Government Framework Primer Version 1.0”, and hides that it can help technology­‐enabled change.

This single diagram shows all that most people need to know.

TGF Diagram

TGF Diagram

It may not be perfect in every case, but it is a far better starting point than the blank piece of paper that initiates most shared service programmes.  Not only does it comply with Quarkside’s Process, Governance and Technology philosophy, it highlights the need for critical success factors (CSFs).  CSFs are a fundamental part of the framework roadmap already published by Quarkside.

Give it a try – or just publicise its existence.  Perhaps LeGSB has a role to play.

Thanks to Mick Pythian for this link

07/04/2011

QA may madden Maude

The 2011 Government ICT strategy preaches standards.   Tick box = Good.  People who bore for standards preach, ‘to do it properly you must define the standard and check later that the standard has been followed’.  This blog compares the strategy against a standard (standard with a small ‘s’) – in this case against the same set that was used to review the SOCITM ICT Strategy, released in draft last month.

The target for all public sector ICT is established in the introduction:

“6. Information and communications technology (ICT) is critical for the effective operation of government and the delivery of the services it provides to citizens and businesses. It offers key benefits by enabling:

  • access to online transactional services, which makes life simpler and more convenient for citizens and businesses; and
  • channels to collaborate and share information with citizens and business, which in turn enable the innovation of new online tools and services.”

Everybody must agree with this, and observe that sharing information across multiple agency boundaries is critical for citizens, businesses and agencies.  It has led to much discussion about shared infrastructure, shared services and the benefits this will bring.  Fortunately, we can use a standard for quality assuring the Strategy and highlighting any gaps that need to be addressed.  It has nine dimensions for assessing multi-agency information sharing partnerships.

  • Business Scope and Plans
  • Governance
  • Legal Issues, Policies, Rights and Responsibilities
  • Information Sharing
  • Identity Management
  • Federation
  • Transactions, Events and Messages
  • Infrastructure
  • Sustainability

Overall these can be summarised into Process, Governance and Technology – the Quarkside mantra.  A quick traffic light assessment against the standard dimensions is as follows:

  • Business Scope and Plans: Amber

The reasons are good and there is an aggressive, but risky timeplan.  Dependence on on word ‘Agile’, is a recipe for systemic obscuring of progress.  It provides opportunities for hiding problems that only emerge when the end-users in multiple location are expected to change time-honoured processes, and new systems are not interoperable with old systems.  The needs of 450 local authorities must not be ignored.

  • Governance:  Amber

A structure has been developed, but it omits the input of local delivery agencies, such as local authorities.

  • Legal Issues, Policies, Rights and Responsibilities: Amber

Apart from the Policy, other issues are not raised

  • Information Sharing: Amber

Use of open standards and APIs will help at a programmatic level, but additional useful services, such as Master Data Management and systems interoperability standards are not mentioned.

  • Identity Management:  Red

Avoidance of a cross public sector strategy for citizen, employee and agent identity management risks complete failure of the strategy and policy objectives will not be met.

  • Federation: Red

Federated trust by all involved agencies is vital for both accuracy and efficiency.  Nowhere is this mentioned or implied.

  • Transactions, Events and Messages:  Green

Operational systems usually find technical solution for inter-system data transfers.  The use of Web services on the Cloud should help.  Channel issues are addressed

  • Infrastructure:  Greenish

The overwhelming weight of the document is technology and infrastructure, there are eleven actions planned.  However, one suspects that the thought process has ignored local government and external agencies in the calculations.  Are local authorities expected to reduce ICT costs by 35%?

  • Sustainability:  Red

The standard means to ability to sustain a shared service for operation over many years, not reducing carbon usage.  Most shared services fail because of the inability to agree funding for operations, and all the development investment is wasted.  Central Government must agree a sustainable funding model at the very beginning of every information sharing project.  The Cabinet Office should feel responsible for the whole of the public sector, not just central government departments and agencies.

So how do you react to 3 Reds, 4 Ambers and 2 Greens?  It is low on Process and Governance and higher on Technology.  Quarkside thinks it is good enough for a first draft to get the ball rolling.  But if Francis Maude thinks this document is going to deliver all his policy objectives, then I fear that he, or his successor, is set for a big disappointment and some explaining to do.

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